During Summer School on Planetary Boundaries we played Lords of the Valley game with a group of students and postgraduates specialized in environmental and natural sciences, their professors and foreign lecturers who desired to participate. Observers made notes during the operation phase, local community meetings, and discussion after the session.
All the participants note that Lords of the Valley game allows obtaining practical experience in system thinking, studying interactions between multiple elements of a system and understanding its general behavior. The system structure of River Valley, including Farmers and their parcels, Local Government, Water Board, the Bank, Environmental Non-Governmental Organization (ENGO) etc. has internal logic but an even simple set of elements can generate complex behavior, which is hard to understand and predict. Even harder task is to take that behavior under control and make life in River Valley sustainable and comfortable for its residents. The game gives practice that is much more useful than pure theoretical knowledge on systems.
WHAT PARTICIPANTS SAID:
Farmer 1 team
All our fish died one year. We thought it was because we had no reed cutter. During debriefing we found out that the cause was different: we set up our fishpond at the top of the hill, and our pond just dried up during the drought. Now we understand that we should have chosen an activity for the parcel depending on its elevation level. Taking into account local conditions is a key element to getting sustainable.
Farmer 2 team
We lost almost all crops because of bad weather. We lost money, and at the same time, ENGO originated complaint on us to Central Government, and they fined us on destroying nature. That was completely unfair! Farmers’ life is hard enough, anyway. First, ENGO did not understand how the system work. Then, we had to spend a lot of time explaining we did not want to harm the environment. Finally, ENGO stopped generating complaints and gave us good advice instead. Communication and information exchange is very important.
Farmer 3 team
We got a loan from the Bank but by mistake agreed to 14% interest rate. It was so unacceptably high that it almost ruined our farm. Only Local Government help and a lot of negotiations saved us. We should have made our actions carefully to avoid such mistakes.
First, our loan rates were really high as we were interested only in gaining money. We needed time to understand that if we did not offer acceptable loan conditions to Valley residents, Farmers would not be able to develop their activities, and Water Board could not maintain the dike. Valley state affects Bank the same way as all other residents; we all are members of the same community and must make common decisions.>
Water Board specialists
We were responsible for dikes and channels state. After the first flood, Farmers insisted on making dikes higher. We spent all money available to do it and had to ask Farmers, Bank and Local Government for help each year to maintain the dikes. By the end of the game, we offered using channels for water distribution instead of spending money for dikes, but many farmers were afraid of flood too much so they insisted on keeping dike as high as possible. If we could play the game again, we would develop channel system from the first year. That could be a better solution for both farmers and nature.
We had information on Valley biodiversity that other residents didn’t have. But they concentrated on their activities and revenues more than on biodiversity. Our complaints to Central Government and fines to some farmers did not help. Quite the contrary, we created tension and had problems with farmers, instead. So at the second community meeting, we started to exchange information and communicate instead of threatening. That was more effective way to find common solutions. When we started sharing information, we also started to understand system behavior better.
Foreign Farmer team
We played the role of foreign Farmers that tried to develop their business in River Valley. We established good relations with local Farmers but overall situation was not easy for none of us. If we faced such difficulties in real life, we would take the next flight back to our native country… But it was very interesting to exchange information and try to find solutions during community meetings. System behavior is not easy to understand. All the players have to participate to find solutions.
WHAT OBSERVERS SAID:
It was interesting to observe how the situation changes from year to year. First, all Valley residents had a lack of information and could not understand what happened around. Local Government would say something like ‘we are busy now, please come back later’, the Bank could refuse Farmers and Water Board in decreasing loan rates. Everyone could see only part of the whole picture; participants were ready to blame anyone else but their own actions.
Farmers started to plan a kind of revolution to force Government to give them undeveloped parcels for free. Bank and some farmers planned to buy all the assets and then resell it to other farmers at a higher price. Water Board asked if they could originate local flood to inundate the Bank to make them decrease rates! Only later in the game participants managed to communicate more effectively to find a common solution that could make life better for whole Valley. All of the players got valuable practical experience. We included foreign Farmer team to the session. It that was a live example of international efforts to reach sustainability.
The debriefing was very instructive and allowed making conclusions both for participants and observers. Students discussed their roles and decisions made many days after the session. We had the luck to play the game under the experienced eye of facilitator Piotr Magnuszewski. We would like to thank him, his colleagues, who supported organization process remotely, and game creators team for that opportunity. We plan to include Lords of the Valley game in our regular Bachelor and Master programs and use it for mixed groups at scientific conferences and seminars.
It’s very useful for any system study to experience in-game system like River Valley from Lords of the Valley.
Participants get real experience and knowledge how to act with and within the system. That can be very useful not only for students and postgraduates but for teachers, professors, technical specialists, scientific teams and task groups, and any type of decision-makers including businessmen and entrepreneurs of any level.
The Lords of the Valley game session was organized by Institute of Chemistry and Problems of Sustainable Development, Dmitry Mendeleev University of Chemical Technology of Russia in May 2016 in Zvenigorod, Russia.